+++

"But what happened to him?" asked Ace.

"One of the Rani's experiments," muttered the Doctor, casting a look behind him. "I stopped her here once before, but she's back. This time her interference with humanity has to end."

"Who is she anyway? Another megalomaniac trying to take over the universe?"

"Not exactly. She's much more concerned with her research. Unfortunately, she also lacks a conscience."

They were talking in the hallway. In the living room, Shaun was speaking to the creature, to Andrew as the newspaper revealed, as normally as he could under the circumstances. He could see that Andrew was far more scared than anyone else, and that knowledge had made him kind and eager to comfort. John watched them from the doorway, his eyes shadowed.

"There but for the grace of god," he murmured to himself, then stole a glance at the Doctor, "Or wizards." He moved into the hallway, and the Doctor looked up at his approach. "What are you going to do about him?"

"Take him back, and see if I can do anything for him," replied the Doctor.

"Back to the witch's cottage?" he asked.

The Doctor nodded. "You don't have to come."

"No, Doctor, I do. What about Shaun?"

"He stays here."

"Alone? Doctor, I stopped him going to school as soon as I saw the paper. I'm not leaving him now."

"He stays here," repeated the Doctor firmly, eyes dark. This time John didn't argue.

+++

The forest was dark. Evergreen conifers barely letting in any of the moonlight, but both the Doctor and John Turner knew where they were going. Even in the dark, as he made his way across a forest floor that was by turns slippery and sludgy with mud, he knew that they were nearing their destination.

But he kept his eyes fixed ahead, straining to make out the shapes in the distance.

"Looking for ghosts?" asked the Doctor, falling in step behind him.

"I haven't been here for over fifty years, Doctor," he replied, his voice low. The air was still and cold, though the rain had stopped, and he could here nothing except the four sets of footsteps moving slowly, surely, back to the cottage.

"But you stayed in the village," said the Doctor. John shrugged, not sure what to say. He got the feeling that the Doctor was looking for something in his answers, but he had nothing to tell him except the truth.

"I couldn't leave," he said.

"No, I don't think you could," said the Doctor, half to himself and he slowed to meet Ace and Andrew who were walking behind him.

John walked on, thinking. Regeneration had sounded simple enough, the way the Doctor explained it. But this man was so different from the first Doctor he had known. There were similarities, certainly, but he was beginning to see that they were only superficial: this one didn't smile so much, and when he did John was never sure if it reached his eyes. There was so much more control here, so much more care taken with what was said. It felt like he was using words as tools.

Yes, decided John, there was something about this Doctor that made him distinctly uneasy.

John stopped, noticing the ground: it was charred, flattened. The thinning of the trees let the moonlight through now, and he could see that the cottage was gone. "We're here," he whispered.

"So we are. Ace, I see you've brought your backpack." The Doctor didn't turn around, but John could see the hint of a guilty look on her face. "You don't have anything explosive with you, perchance?"

"Just a few," she replied. "Come on, Professor . . ."

"How many?" he asked.

She smiled. "How many do you need?"

"Enough to take out a small underground complex. Six or seven rooms, assuming she hasn't improved it."

"Easy," said Ace, grinning. "It'll be a wicked explosion."

The Doctor frowned slightly, then asked: "And do you remember that talk we had about safety precautions."

"Sort of, I mean, I did work on it."

"Fuses," said the Doctor, holding up his umbrella. "How long?"

"The longest?"

"Yes."

"Ten, maybe eleven minutes."

The Doctor smiled. "Good. Now, when we go in there I want you to set the explosives, then get out."

"But, Professor . . ."

"And stay out," he said, and marched towards the entrance.

+++

"She's really down here, right now?"

He didn't want to admit it, but John was afraid. No, he was terrified, and speaking was only making it worse, he realised. At least when it was silent he could pretend this was a nightmare, but the solid, familiar sound of his own voice destroyed that illusion.

The Doctor stopped, a few steps down the corridor and turned round, shadows playing across his face.

"I hope not," he replied quietly, then spoke to Ace. "Start at the other end of the corridor. The furthest room should contain the central computer core, or what's left of it." He turned around again and moved slowly down the corridor, followed by Andrew and John. His umbrella touched a door as he passed. It swung open easily, a long creak piercing the air. "All these doors were locked last time," murmured the Doctor.

As the Doctor moved further down the corridor, towards the laboratory, John fell behind. He tried to calm his fear, focussing on his surroundings, convincing himself that there was nothing here to be afraid of. Dark walls, barely adequate lighting and the diminishing silhouettes of the Doctor and that . . .and Andrew only added to his dread. There was a reason he hadn't set foot in that forest for fifty years, but somehow seeing the Doctor again had convinced him he could do it. And now he had, he realised just how much it was costing him. Fear clawed the back of his mind, forcing nightmare visions into his mind's eye. It told him to run.

He shouldn't be here, he realised.

He walked on.

+++

The laboratory was much as the Doctor remembered it, and that puzzled him. It appeared that the Rani had repaired most of the damage, but was unwilling to extend or improve the facility. Perhaps she just hasn't had the time, mused the Doctor and the thought cheered him.

A flash of white distracted him from his thoughts. He stepped back, his eyes searching the darkened room for its source. It was tempting to switch on the lights, but that seemed a little obvious to him, and therefore dangerous. Slowly, he moved round the workbench, working his way across the cylinders which, he noted with disgust, had been reactivated.

There was a cry of pain form behind him. He turned around to see something materialise next to John Turner: smooth, silver and humanoid. Its oval face was blank.

"Androids," he murmured, as he felt a steely grasp on his own shoulder. Not quite enough to be painful, but he couldn't pull away from it. There appeared to be only two of them, and the second one held both John and Andrew.

"Is this part of your plan?" asked John, trying to pull away from the android.

"No," said the Doctor. "Don't struggle. They seem to be programmed only to immobilise, but that could change." Slowly, carefully, the Doctor used his free arm to touch the android. There was no reaction. With increased confidence, his fingers moved over the metallic surface until he found a panel he could open. "Ah," he said, looking inside. "Very interesting." He stretched his fingers and moved them into the androids wiring, working as quickly as he could with only one free hand.

Moments later, he heard the distinctive sound of a TARDIS dematerialising, and a tall black box faded into existence in the centre of the laboratory. The Doctor's eyes flicked up, but he didn't stop working, and hoped his movements were surreptitious enough not to be noticed.

The Rani stepped out of her time machine, holding an unconscious child in her arms.

"Shaun!" cried John. "Let him go!" He struggled furiously. The Rani shot a contemptuous glace in his direction, her cold eyes taking in the scene before her, then she turned to the Doctor.

"Back again, I see," she said, opening one of the cylinder's and putting Shaun inside. "Well, don't let me stop you babbling on morality." The Doctor stayed silent for a moment, the near darkness in the room casting his eyes in shadow as he watched the Rani.

"A little unusual for you, using androids?" he said calmly.

"Your fault, Doctor. Since my aliens became unreliable I've been working on genetically adapting another species to my needs. These humans that you're so fond of make very good subjects. But since you managed to destroy most of my work, I've had to resort to primitive artificial assistants. Engineering is hardly my forté." She glanced at the overhead monitor of the cylinder.

"And what about him?" asked the Doctor, his eyes flicking to Andrew, and his deformed appearance, his grey skin appearing black in the diminished light.

The Rani shrugged. "All experiments are subject to unpredictable results. His genetic make-up rejected the changes, and mutated."

"So you abandoned him," said the Doctor. The Rani's eyes narrowed, and she took three short steps towards him.

"Would you rather I had killed him?"

"And who's next for your monstrous experiment, Rani? How many lives are you going to destroy this time?" he asked, his voice cold.

"Destroy?" she exclaimed. Her hand flicked a switch on one of the control consoles and the first cylinder lit up, and the Doctor could see a young girl inside. "Her inherited genetics would have condemned her to an early death, Doctor."

"That's not certain," he replied.

"But once I've corrected the flaws it will be certain that she survives." The Rani smiled coldly.

"And then what? You alter who she is to suit your own purposes. You sacrifice her freedom, her individuality, her free choice," he said. "You kill her!"

The Rani completed her adjustments to the computer and stepped back. "And what about you friend over there?" she asked, nodding towards John. "He's alive, isn't he?"

"What do you mean?" asked John, feeling a shiver pass through him. There had been something entirely unreal about the whole conversation. Being back here again had forced him to remember a great deal he had tried to suppress. It seemed familiar, though his own memories had been skewed by his fear of the place. He couldn't remember much of his imprisonment; he wasn't really sure how long he had been trapped in here for before the Doctor had freed him. He had been cold when he was conscious, and he remembered the witch's face with terrifying clarity. Flashes of green. Cool metal. The pain of needles burrowing into his skin.

"What do you mean?" he asked again, realising that the Doctor had not replied.

"Are you going to answer him, Doctor?" enquired the Rani. "Or shall I tell him."

"Doctor?"

"You're interfering with evolution," said the Doctor, his voice low, angry. Dark eyes focussed on the Rani. "You have no right to . . ."

" . . .interfere?" The Rani laughed. "Why ever not," she said, her voice hardening. "Isn't that what you do?"

"Doctor! What did she mean?" demanded John. "What did she mean!"

"You were here long enough for the Rani to begin her experiment on you," replied the Doctor levelly.

"I don't understand," he said. The Rani finally turned to him, her icy eyes filled with contempt.

"You stupid human, you'd be dead if it wasn't for me. I saved you life," she smiled coldly.

"No," John shook his head. "No, that's not true. You . . .you . . ." He broke off. "What are you going to do to my grandson?" he asked quietly.

"Something which should be a little for successful than that," she said, jerking her head at Andrew's monstrous form. "Probably." She turned back to the console.

"Now!" shouted the Doctor. The android that had been holding him released the Doctor's arm and flew across the laboratory, attacking the second android, which released John and Andrew to defend itself. The two identical creations swung and kicked and tried to crush each other, but identical strength and abilities had locked them both in an unwinnable battle.

The Rani swung around, her features contorted in fury.

The Doctor was grinning, and watching the battle in some amusement. "It seems you were right, Rani, engineering really isn't your forté."

Outnumbered and having lost control of her androids, the Rani paused barely a moment before running into her TARDIS.

"What's she doing?" asked John.

"Cutting her losses," replied the Doctor as the TARDIS dematerialised.

"Doctor!" Ace appeared in the doorway to the laboratory. "This place is about to go up!"

"Right, everybody out," said the Doctor. "Except you." He took Andrew by the hand and led him across to the cylinders, releasing Shaun and the trapped girl. "Out!" ordered the Doctor, before crouching down in front of Andrew, and gently placing him inside the machine. He heard retreating footsteps behind him, and turned to the console. "Ace," he muttered noticing that someone was still in the laboratory. "I thought I told you to get out. Twice."

"I'm not leaving you here, Professor."

"How much time do we have, then?"

"About a minute."

"Mmm," his eyes glanced at the monitor and back at the console. "Really, this was never something I was very good at," he murmured. "Oh, well." He flicked a switch and began to input commands. Seconds later, he was finished, took a glance at the cylinder and crossed his fingers. He activated the machine.

Inside the cylinder Andrew was changing.

"What are you doing?" asked Ace.

"Trying to reverse what the Rani did."

"Is it working?"

"Not very well," admitted the Doctor. "And my time is up." He shut down the machine and opened the cylinder, picking up Andrew and running for the exit. "Come on, Ace!" he shouted.

+++

"She saved my life?"

The Doctor nodded sadly. "Yes."

"You didn't tell me that."

"No."

John Turner shook his head, eyes staring at the smoke cloud drifting across the woods. Shaun and the little girl, Mirabelle, seemed to be perfectly fine, physically. The other boy, Andrew, the monster, didn't look quite so monstrous anymore. His hair and mouth had returned, and the puffy grey skin had gone. But his eyes, John shuddered, he found the solid black so disconcerting.

"Did she have time to do anything to Shaun?"

"I don't think so."

"But you can't be sure?"

The Doctor sighed; certainty was such an uncertain thing, especially for him. He took out a piece of paper and wrote down a number. "Here," he said, passing the paper to John. "Call them. Tell them what happened. Everything that happened."

John raised his eyebrows. "And they'll believe me."

The Doctor nodded, and turned away. He began to walk.

"Doctor!"

The Doctor stopped.

"Is she going to come back?" asked John.

"Oh, she'll be back: another place, another time."

"But not here?"

"Not here."

+++

Mirabelle Adams sat at the bus stop clutching her school bag tightly. She was going back to school today, even though she still had nightmares.

She looked across the road at Shaun's house, the blue box gone. She hadn't seen Shaun since the strange little man had left, or his grandfather. She had tried to ask her mother what had happened, but she had just got very upset. The little man had replied to her questions, but she still didn't feel like she had any answers.

Andrew seemed to be doing okay though. And he was the one person who was willing to talk about what had happened, but he didn't understand it any more than she did.

There were trucks in the woods now, and soldiers with guns. She didn't like them; they frightened her, and now the little village was overrun with them.

The air still smelt of smoke. She had wanted to go into the forest and find out what had really happened, but there was no way she would be able to sneak away at the moment.

She could hear the school bus coming now, the distant rumbling noise. She stood up, ready for its arrival with the same thought repeating itself in her head: Time will help, it usually does.

At least, that was what the little man had said.

+++

End.